Columbia University held its second annual Sports Management Conference on Oct. 18, open to all with an interest in sports business, from students and professionals to athletes and others who were able to hear keynote speakers and sports business magnates.
One of the more interesting and honest of the over 40 speakers, was Jon Ledecky, co-owner of the New York Islanders. The Queens native spoke about the relationship between sports owners and the media. During his time in the sports business, Ledecky made bids to own teams like the Cincinnati Reds and the Los Angeles Dodgers before he purchased the majority share of the Islanders and their affiliate the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. Ledecky realizes the power of the media and has built a solid business empire, while retaining a good relationship with journalists.
“As an owner I must follow through with what I say all the time because journalists can spot a phony from a mile away,” Ledecky said.
Ledecky started out as a journalist and said those lessons learned as a writer helped his dealings as an entrepreneur. He won a scholarship to Vanderbilt University, but had always wanted to go to an Ivy League school, so instead pursued Harvard University as a business student. There in Cambridge, he wrote for the Harvard Crimson, the student-run newspaper at the university.
“The job of a journalist is to ask questions and as an entrepreneur and owner of a sports franchise, I utilize that ability all the time,” Ledecky said.
Ledecky emphasized the importance of the Islander fans, calling them “the life and blood of the organization.” He has ideas to improve the fandom experience not only at the games, but also the whole process of attending a sporting event.
He spoke about his idea of giving young people a place to stand and interact with one another, concert-style. Ledecky also showed interest in creating better service systems for returning fans.
“If a family comes and orders three hot dogs and a couple drinks and some popcorn, why not have a system that remembers that order and we can just bring out that food to those fans when they come back?” Ledecky said.
Ledecky was aware that not all these ideas might work, but hopes his persistence and drive to keep finding solutions will create the best possible atmosphere at Islander games. As a creative entrepreneur, he constantly wants to solve problems to give fans the best experience possible. In that way, he is improving the overall product for customers.
It is that type of fan experience that has made the Islanders rise again on the radar of the fan, moving games back to the Nassau Coliseum before the opening of a new arena, all with an eye on those in the seats as much as those in the boardroom.
Ledecky’s balance of understanding made the day worthwhile for all in the near sold out crowd, with hopes that we hear more of him, as well as his team as the NHL season progresses.